You might as well call today's kickoff the 121st minute.

Both Versatile Wanganui City and GJ Gardner Homes Wanganui Athletic are fixing to start 2019 how they left off on the first day of spring last year, with the derby match to open the Lotto Central Federation League at Wembley Park.

Having come back to the league last year after being runners-up in the 2017 Horizons Premiership, City were able to close the gap on their neighbours across the three matches they played.

Athletic's 5-2 win on opening day 12 months ago was followed by just hanging on 3-2 in June after a City comeback.


After a wet weather delay of a couple of weeks, the home town rivals were finally able to finish the year with their annual Charity Cup clash on September 1 and it was a classic – deadlocked 2-2 at the end of 120 minutes of regulation and extra time, before Athletic just prevailed 4-3 in the penalty shootout.

That result reflected that the two teams seemed to be meeting in the middle.

Athletic finished league play in fourth on a congested table behind clear winners Palmerston North Marist, with a 6-2-6 record, while City may have been back in seventh but were greatly encouraged by a strong finish, winding up 5-1-8 overall, which set the table for the Charity Cup thriller.

Athletic coach Jason King couldn't tell you the particulars of his team's winning fourth goal in the shootout – he couldn't bear to watch any of it.

"It still haunts me" he said.

"It's certainly important for us to get a good start and build the momentum right from the beginning.

"Looks like [City] could have a strong season in front of them.

"They've got some good players — I see Jordan Joblin-Hall is back. They've got some other players returning from injury."


Joblin-Hall returns from another mid-season transfer to Palmerston North Marist, which is where noteworthy Athletic player Josh Smith has now headed.

"It will be nice and interesting to come up against him again, as we did when he was with New Plymouth Rangers," said King.

City and Athletic will have bigger fish to fry than just derby games in a more imposing Federation League this year, with 11 teams instead of eight.

Joining the fray are the likes of Napier Marist and Havelock North Wanderers, the latter returning from the higher tier Central League.

It will be a 16-game competition, eight home and eight away, alongside separate weekends for sudden-death cup games.

Athletic are looking at having to play two of their toughest road games – Napier Marist and rivals New Plymouth Rangers – on Sundays.

"It's not quite a situation where we play everyone twice, there is a window we have to fit everyone into," said King.

Havelock North will come to Wembley, and far from being a spent force after relegation, King said the Hawke's Bay club has some excellent teenagers who won the Satellite Division of the prestigious Napier Under-19 tournament during Labour Weekend.

"That shows they've got some youth coming through. They could be one we need to keep an eye on."

Palmerston North Marist will be asked the question whether they can repeat as champions, given coach Shane Rufer has moved on to hapless Red Sox, who had a draw and 13 losses in 2018.

Athletic will be looking to the steady hands of Ryan Holden, James Satherley and chirpy Englishman Matthew Calvert to set them on their way, given the likes of Quinn Mailman (university) and Alex Rothman (overseas) have departed, while veteran Kelvin Hove is just focusing on local games.

"We've added a development team to our wider squad, to add a bridge," King said.

The mixture of kids and veterans will bolster the ranks of both of Athletic's travelling sides.

"As we've talked about, injuries do come around — real life."

It is a new era for Wanganui City, as former coach Kelvin Francis seems to be getting lazy by looking after only four different City teams at the same time this season.

The first team will therefore be guided by veteran pillars Latham Berry and Anthony Bell, the former ast year's ironman with the most appearances for the injury-hit side, while Bell, as always, was top scorer.

Kickoff is at 2.45pm on Wembley Park No 1.

At 12.30pm, the GJ Gardner Homes Wanganui Athletic Reserves kick off their 2019 Horizons Premiership campaign against Massey University.

And tomorrow is the start of the Women's Federation League, with Team Ritesh Football Whanganui at home to Palmerston North Marist Women, with a 1pm kickoff.